How to use Google Earth to plan a bass fishing trip- part 1

Maybe the most common question I see or get is “where do you go fishing?’  Granted,  that type of questions comes from the more “uninitiated”, but it happens – a lot.  From the more hardened or seasoned crowd the question is more along the lines of “Do you use Google Earth to check out fishing spots?” or “How do you use Google Earth to find fishing spots?”  Before I dive in, let me say that there is a lot to this, but that it’s well worth it to become comfortable with using Google Earth as a resource to help your fishing. This happened to me just the other day as I was planning on visiting a section of the Columbia River I had never fished before.  It’s going to take me multiple parts, so here’s part 1.

Be sure to check out the video at the bottom.

Historical Imagery

One of the biggest keys to using Google Earth to it’s fullest is to be aware that you have access to historic images going back approxiametly 10 years.  Access that feature on the top toolbar, and view the different images taken of that area.  Different images will convey what the water looks like during different times of the year as well as what various bodies of water look like during high and low water points.  The more recent the image, the better the quality in general, but going back in time can reveal some real “jackpots”. More on that later.

Use the Historical Image button at the top

GE hist image button

The top slider can now be used revealing different images from different days

GE using hist image

Using the ruler

The “ruler” feature allows you to measure from two spots in feet, yards or miles.  You can also follow the river itself and get an accurate look at river mileage in order to prepare for things like how much gas you will need or how long it might take you to navigate.  In my example below, Priest Rapids Lake is just over 17 and a half miles long.


The character of Columbia River pools

Something really cool about Google Earth is that you can get a sense for the overall character of a body of water.  By “character” I mean, is it a deep clear body of water or maybe it’s shallow and stained.  Again, using the historical imagery button, you can see for yourself how it changes through the season and what is “normal” for that particular time of year you are planning on going.

In my case, I was visiting a pool on the Columbia River, so I expected from past experience that the river could be divided into 3 distinct sections.  Google Earth confirmed my predictions.

The upper third

The upper third of most Columbia River lakes (pools) is characterized by strong current, shallow river bars (mid-river islands) and sparse weed growth through much of the growing season.  This pool is no different as you can see below.


The middle third

The middle third of most pools offers the most variety.  While still having plenty of current, the middle third also offers much in terms of backwater areas that warm faster in the spring and stay out of the current offering great spawning habitat for both Largemouth and Smallmouth bass alike.

middle third

The lower third

The lower third of the pools is where the river becomes more like a lake.  Current is much less, but the river can be wide and steep canyon walls coupled with a wide body of water are inviting to the wind.  Extensive weed growth maybe present.

lower third

The lower end of the pools often features rounded points caused by sediment build up from creeks or drains that are pretty obvious to spot.  These rounded points are essentially shallow flats mixed in with an otherwise steep shoreline and river bottom.  These flats provide their own little ecosystem and are pretty easy to stumble on but also easy to miss.  You may be going down a boring piece of rip-rap bank and decide to leave not knowing that you were only yards away from one of these little gold mines.

rnd flats

Other general observations

When you are actually out on the water, things can all look alike or maybe you have that initial impression of “everything looks good”.  Don’t fall into the trap of becoming mesmerized by the water and the beauty of the scenery.  A little research ahead of time can clue you into some of the stuff you are about to discover.  At least your discovery won’t be random.  You can pull up to an area like you know what you are doing – because well…you do!

Color gradients

It’s critical to be able to ascertain color or shades while using Google Earth.  These will give you clues as to what is below the surface which you can then verify when you are on the water.

ge weed rk sand

In part 2, I will look at how to look for specific bass fishing locations and how to create a file of waypoints for those locations.


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